Hockey fans can rejoice now that their long, Bettman-induced nightmare is over and there will indeed by hockey this season. Kicking off this Saturday, the shortened 48 game 2013 season will try to get fans back after most thought there would be no labor deal at all.  This also has pundits and writers scrambling to get their prognostications in for the season. Here’s my look at how the Western Conference will shake out, with its Eastern Conference counterpart coming tomorrow.

1) St Louis Blues
The Blues are the new power team in the West and their prowess lies in keeping pucks out of the net. They allowed the fewest goals last season and that should continue with the Halak-Elliot tandem in net, emerging star Alex Pietrangelo anchoring the blueline and David Backes providing two-way play up the middle. Suffice it to say, this team will be incredibly hard to score upon. They were middle of the pack in terms of goal-scoring, but coach Ken Hitchcock’s defense first system got them within two points of the top spot in the West last season and it will get them there this year.

2) Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks return virtually the same team that has won the last two President’s Trophies. They lost Sami Salo, but added Jason Garrison from Florida. The Sedin twins lead the offensive charge as usual with guys such as Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and David Booth as supporting members. The biggest question for the team lies in goal and the fate of Roberto Luongo. The trade rumors surrounding him were a hot topic in the offseason and when they get around to trading him they should get a nice return. Cory Schneider proved he can carry the load in Luongo’s abscence.

3) Los Angeles Kings
The Kings caught fire at exactly the right time and rode that momentum to the Stanley Cup. The defending champs look set to contend with a balanced team. With Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Jeff Carter on offense and Drew Doughty leading an underrated blueline, this team will be sure to compete every night. Goalie Jonathan Quick’s heroics in the playoffs will be needed if the Kings want to avoid the ‘Stanley Cup hangover’, which has plagued every team since the Red Wings in 1998.

4) Chicago Blackhawks
It was an unusally quiet offseason for the Blackhawks, but with their star power, no big changes were really needed. The Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane top line should be stellar with each guy capable of scoring 30 goals during an 82 game schedule. The fact that Marian Hossa is on the second line shows how much scoring depth they have. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are both #1 D-men, which should help since goaltending is the team’s weakness. Neither Corey Crawford nor Ray Emery have taken the reins, so the guys in front of them will have to play that much better.

5) San Jose Sharks
This might be one of the last chances the Sharks get to land their elusive first Cup. Their core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle is getting older, so that window is closing. The vets are complimented by youngsters Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and the vastly underrated Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Brad Stuart and Adam Burrish were added for grit and Antii Niemi is solid if unspectacular in goal. The question isn’t if the Sharks have the talent to win the Cup, but whether they can get over that hump and into the Cup Finals.

6) Minnesota Wild
The shocking signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter instantly add credibility to the league’s worst offense. Parise’s numbers should be even better playing on the top line with Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. Mikael Granlund leads an elite crops of homegrown talent that could see playing time this season. Nicklas Backstrom is an underrated goalie whose numbers suffer because of a less-then-stellar blueline that should improve with the addition of Suter.

7) Detroit Red Wings
You might be forgiven for thinking this is some weird alternate universe where the Wings could be a bubble team. Their offseason was disastrous as they were unable to find anyone to replace Niklas Lidstrom, not that it was possible to begin with, but Ryan Suter was available. Their blueline suffers for it, but they still boast a deep group of forwards led by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg with Jimmy Howard a stalwart in goal. They’re still a playoff team, but no longer the annual Cup contender they were in years past.

8) Nashville Predators
The story was the same for the Preds in the offseason, they lost a top player and people started to write them off. This has happened a few times in the past, but the team still manages to make the playoffs. They do still have Norris hopeful Shea Weber and Vezina hopeful Pekka Rinne, but more importantly they have coach Barry Trotz. The franchise’s only coach is an expert at getting maximum production from minimal talent. The offense was better then expected with 9 guys scoring at least 15 goals, which will need to continue for the team to make the playoffs.

9) Dallas Stars
The Stars surprisingly competed until the end for a playoff spot and that should continue this year. They brought in savvy vets Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr to complement young stars Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn. They’ll need to produce in order to overcome a decent blueline that has no real #1 guy. Kari Lehtonen has finally established himself as the top goalie that made him the #2 pick in 2002. The talent level doesn’t seem quite there to make the playoffs, but if they get hot at the right time, the Stars could always surprise and sneak in.

10) Phoenix Coyotes
The ‘Yotes are another squad that follows a defense first model. Goalie coach Sean Burke resurrecting Mike Smith from the lower circles of goalie purgatory is amazing, plus the team has a deep collection of young bluelines in Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Brandon Gormley. Leading point scorer Ray Whitney departed, so the burden of scoring will shift to guys like Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and franchise guy Shane Doan. They’ll be scrappy and tough to play against, but they can win only so many low-scoring games.

11) Anaheim Ducks
If the Ducks want to succeed this season, then the vaunted Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry trio will need to recapture their offensive magic so 42 year old Teemu Selanne doesn’t have lead the team in points. A return to form by goalie Jonas Hiller would also help. Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa are talented youngsters on the blueline, but the group as a whole won’t be mistaken for the Pronger-Niedermayer glory days. The Ducks just don’t have enough to keep pace in the tough Pacific division, let alone the Western Conference.

12) Edmonton Oilers
No team possesses the deep collection of offensive skill as the Oilers. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and No 1 pick Nail Yakupov are an incredible foundation, but the team isn’t quite there yet. An unsteady blueline could be helped if Ryan Whitney stays healthy and Justin Schultz can fulfill his promise, otherwise the D-men are mostly pedestrian. The mediocre Devan Dubnyk-Nikoali Khabibulin pairing in net doesn’t help things either. The Oilers will be contenders in a few years, just not this season.

13) Colorado Avalanche
While the Avalanche stayed in playoff contention last season, several things have to go right for them to do it again. Goalie Semyon Varlamov needs to get healthy and play with more consistency, Erik Johnson needs to prove he can be a #1 defender while talented forwards Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene must rediscover their scoring touches. Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog was a surprise, but there’s just not enough for the team to make the playoffs.

14) Calgary Flames
The Flames are the typical bubble team, good enough to contend, but not enough to get into the playoffs. That might not be the case any longer. Cornerstones Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff are getting older and the farm system has very few guys ready to contribute. Signing Michael Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler could help, but seem more likely reaches where a commitment to rebuilding could start the team on the path back to the playoffs. They certainly won’t be there this season or any time soon.

15) Columbus Blue Jackets
The only the Blue Jackets will be competing for this season is the league cellar. Rick Nash is gone and guys like Vinny Prospal and Derick Brassard don’t strike fear in the heart of opposing defenses. Adding Sergei Bobrovsky to compete with Steve Mason in net won’t be any better then Mason was by himself last season. Talented Jack Johnson is their #1 blueliner by default which isn’t a good thing for a team that should struggle to keep pucks out of the net. You can pretty pencil in Columbus for the worst record this season.